SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: May 17, 2022

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances

Institution(s):University of Eswatini

Region & Country:Southern Africa | Eswatini

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On May 17, 2022, members of the Umtufo Eswatini Defense Force (UEDF) attacked the president of the Swaziland National Union of Students (SNUS) during a protest at the University of Eswatini.

Students held a protest over delayed allowances and security concerns. While the protest was reportedly peaceful, police and UEDF members arrived on campus, informing the students that they needed to vacate the campus and that the university would be closed indefinitely. UEDF members reportedly fired shots in the air in an apparent attempt to disperse the students.

Authorities reportedly identified Colani Maseko, the SNUS president, and ordered him to board a police vehicle. (It is unclear why they ordered Maseko into the vehicle.) After realizing that he did not have his phone on him — Times of Eswatini reported that he had left it with another student who was taking photos and videos for social media purposes — Maseko left the vehicle to retrieve it. While on his way to get his phone, UEDF members reportedly attacked Maseko, kicking and punching him. UEDF members proceeded to take him into an army truck and brought him to the Matsapha Police Station where he was subject to interrogation.

Once Maseko was released, his peers rushed him to a hospital to treat his injuries. Maseko was reportedly in critical condition.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about state security forces beating a peaceful student activist in apparent retaliation for the nonviolent exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly — conduct that is expressly protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights to which Eswatini is a party. State authorities have a responsibility to refrain from such conduct and to protect fundamental human rights, including the rights to freedom of expression and assembly. The use of force to restrict peaceful student expression undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.

*SAR identified this incident in data made publicly available by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED)